College majors and midterms aren’t the only things giving students major anxiety today. Perhaps the greatest stressor, especially as students draw nearer to commencement, is what they’re going to do with their life post-grad. The pressure to conform to familial expectations, follow the path of one’s major, or make the big bucks is enormous. We know new grads can find their way into amazing careers, but what does that process actually look like?
In her text, You Majored in What?, Brooks introduces a new mode of understanding our lives and choices, therein suggesting a method for reliving some of the anxieties of the process and helping students to stay true to themselves as they move forward in life. She calls this mode the “wandering method” and roots it in her understanding of chaos theory as it relates to a person’s life and career.
Put briefly, chaos theory suggests that there is not a set linear path to our lives, because there are a million seemingly miniscule occurrences that will end up impacting our choices and beliefs further down the road (12). Everything that happens to us effects everything else that is going to happen later and the choices we will make. This plays out particularly in our career choices—this is how we arrive at the wandering method.
The best way to understand this method is to try it yourself, and then to talk through it after. So get out a big, blank sheet of paper and a writing utensil, because here’s the method:
- Commit to not trying to organize anything you put on this sheet of paper (25). My labelers and list-makers out there, take a deep breath—now let it out, because there will be no structure here. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling either (English teachers, cover your eyes!), because it won’t matter here (26).
- Let your mind wander. Think about all of the things that have happened over the course of your life, or that you’ve done, that have been interesting or felt significant (23). Include the recent stuff, but include that thing that happened when you were 5 too—the one you always think back on. Think of hobbies, honors you’ve received, knowledge you rely on—anything, really, that feels important. This isn’t just stuff you think might be career related!
- Write it all down—and remember, no organizing (23)! Put it anywhere on the paper, and include anything that pops into your head. You can make it as simple or as artsy as you like. Don’t worry about explaining, just write down the key words to knowing the experience. Dump your head out onto that sheet of paper.
- When you feel like you’ve got it all down, stop for a second and look it over—seems pretty chaotic, huh? Maybe even a little anxiety inducing? Not for long. The next step begins to find the method to the madness. Glance over your map for the really obvious connections—what experiences clearly fit into a category (27)? Draw lines to connect them. If you’re not feeling the lines, you could color-code instead (this is what I did). Just don’t be surprised if you end up with some multi-colored experiences!
- Look at your map again and squint a little harder this time. Try to find deeper connections than the simple categories we just identified (28).
- Ask yourself: what are the connections and themes within your map? Share it with a friend and ask if they see any you haven’t noticed. Spend time with your map, and take note of the themes you’ve picked up on.
- If this has been a little confusing, take a look at the examples below!
So you have your map. You have your connections. You have your themes. It still probably looks pretty chaotic, so what’s the deal, then? The significance, claims Brooks, is in the themes and connections you drew (36). These have effectively helped you to pinpoint the things that actually matter to you, enough to stick with you and impact your life. It can show what they ultimately mean for you. This might not point you to a particular career, but it can definitely give you direction. And it can give you a sense of rest, in the knowledge that despite the apparent chaos of life, there has been direction and it has been influenced not just by the pressures around you, but by you yourself. And can give the vision and understanding to help you remain true to yourself as you look ahead to post-grad life and begin investigating the vast field that makes up the world of careers today. As Tolkein once said: “not all those who wander are lost.”